Toronto Star on EAs

Toronto Star March 5 2008  Kristin Rushowy
Cutting 230 assistants would save board $10M; Toronto reading program could also be dropped

The Toronto public school board will tonight discuss cutting 230 education assistants in a bid to save $10 million.

Also on the chopping block are reading clinics, which serve about 250 students each year in Grades 2 to 6 – mostly in the old city of Toronto. One trustee calls the program a "miracle worker," but others say it doesn't serve enough students to justify the cost.

With most of the board's elementary classes at the provincially mandated 20 students or less, "what staff is saying is that with these much lower class sizes do we need EAs or could the money be spent on ESL teachers or child and youth workers?" said John Campbell, chair of the Toronto District School Board.

The board employs 707 education assistants who help out in regular programs in classrooms across the city.

Board staff has proposed their ranks be cut to 664 or 477. The lower number would save more than $10 million.

The cuts would not affect assistants working in special education.

"My ward council took the position years ago that they'd far rather have a few more children in a kindergarten classroom with two adults than 20 children with one adult," said trustee Irene Atkinson, who represents Parkdale-High Park.

"The early years are so important," she added. "I think we should be putting in every possible resource we can, not taking resources out."

As well, as the province moves to full-day learning for kindergarten students, the education assistants may be needed, she added.

Atkinson's ward is also home to several schools with the reading clinics, which provide struggling students with an hour a day of help for two years in 32 schools.

"Certainly it costs more, but the results are amazing," Atkinson said of the long-time program.

A less expensive program, called Reading Recovery, is available to Grade 1 students in 202 schools who get about half an hour a day of help for up to 20 weeks.

Campbell said the 19 full-time teachers devoted to the reading clinics could be redeployed to help out ESL students.

The two reading programs deliver "comparable" success, he added, although one retired teacher had figures showing the reading clinics head and shoulders above the Reading Recovery programs.

"This is a holdover that some trustees are unwilling to let go of," Campbell also said, adding the board is "not about to abandon children" who need reading help.

Members of the board's aquatic staff are also bracing for layoffs. There are more than 100 swim instructors; trustees are looking at keeping a minimum of 79.

"You can't keep all the pools open with a one-third reduction," said swim instructor Nancy Campbell, who works at Carleton Village Public School.

"It's unbelievable that with all the focus on children's health that they're thinking of doing this."